Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once joked about how many of his Harvard student’s email addresses he had when setting up the then fledgling social network in 2004. Matthew Milan and Joseph Dee, the organisers of yesterday’s ‘Quit Facebook Day’, must be ecstatic with the 34,466 they have acquired in pledges to bring it down.
That was the amount of people who registered their alleged disgust with the world’s number-one site for sharing thoughts, photos and running virtual farms. Depending on who you read, the ‘Quit Facebook’ day was a resounding failure or a shot across the bows for the faceless guardians of our personal – but freely shared – data.
On his digiphile blog, Alexander B. Howard makes the point that the number who pledged to quit was a drop in the ocean compared to the 400 million users that are registered on Facebook.
He argues the data issue is a fundamentally about trust and: “If we cannot trust that the manner in which we connect, filter and share information with one another will not change with the business needs of a platform, our relationships will be damaged. We have only to look at the statistics on jobs lost, applications denied and romances sunk through virtual actions to understand how those consequences may play out in our offline lives.”
Over on guardian.co.uk, Jemima Kiss argued the 33,313 who the protest organisers said did quit by 10pm on May 31 was a significant number of people “because it represents only the most extreme views of a much larger group. Many more are concerned about Facebook’s privacy issues, but not enough to leave”.
But Kiss also agrees with Howard that it won’t be a “rabble of protesters” that bother Facebook but the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the threat of formal regulation.
However, the question remains whether any of Facebook’s 99.9 per cent remaining users really do care either way.
Just switching on my account today I realised I had the same modest number of friends as the day before (255). I had survived the cull intact.
But then I thought, what the hell do I use Facebook for anyway?
For the most part I’ve given up on the status updates (too contrived), I’ve no interest in the games and the only time the ‘fan’ pages have been any use to me was when I learned John Cooper-Clarke was still alive and gigging in Leeds. And of those 255 friends, I’m lucky if I’m in regular contact with a dozen.
Like Howard, I now use my account as a point of contact for friends and relatives as an easy form of email. I’m there, if you want me, but don’t expect me to go over your status with a fine-tooth comb.
However, I believe I am in the minority of those who use the network – and that’s all it is.
Facebook’s getting old now, it’s becoming boring and it’s the go-to spot on the web for those with nothing to say (erm, unlike a blog).
To take up Kiss’ argument, there may be many more aware of the issues surrounding privacy, but they aren’t going to do anything about it. That’s because they either don’t know how to increase their security, aren’t sharp enough to increase their security or – in my opinion the most likely reason – they just don’t care.
These are the majority of Facebook users, those who want every detail of their life documented on cyberspace and ‘liked’ (again, it’s nothing like a blog, honest). They joined Facebook because their friends did and they want more ‘virtual friends’ than their best mate.
It’s unlikely to be fear of privacy, increased regulation or even the approaching diaspora site (although that stands more chance than most) that will kill off Facebook. It will be fashion, the same fashion that ended Friends Reunited, Myspace and Bebo.
Time and tastes change. It’s just basic human nature.
The only real issue here is when does the end come and, when it inevitably comes, who will be left to tend the virtual farms?
Facebook fans eager to validate themselves (and me by way of commenting) are welcome to vent their spleen in the box below…